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Symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss

February 09, 2018

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The development of technology and industry has led to an increasingly loud society where noise-induced hearing loss is widespread. Industrial machines, loud music, use of earbuds, heavy car traffic, and fireworks are some prominent sources of noise-induced hearing loss.

The most common symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss are:
-- You can’t hear someone talking three feet away
-- Your ears feel “full” after leaving a noisy environment
-- You experience tinnitus, or ringing or buzzing in the ears, especially after exposure to any loud noise (tinnitus can affect not only a person’s hearing, but also their sleep, concentration, and emotional well-being)
-- You suddenly have difficulty understanding speech after exposure to loud noise; you can hear people talking but have difficulty understanding them

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When they don’t cause permanent damage, loud sounds can cause temporary hearing loss and ringing in the ear -- and recent research suggests that even when symptoms of sudden noise-induced hearing loss go away, they sometimes may still contribute to long-term, residual hearing loss. Excessive loud noise may also cause temporary irritability and anxiety, a rise in blood pressure, concentration problems and stomach irritation.

Sometimes symptoms of noise-induced hearing loss may crop up immediately after exposure to a loud noise, or occur gradually over time, making them harder to notice. In the latter case, sounds may become slowly more distorted or muffled over many years. Noise-induced hearing loss is usually caused either by a ruptured ear drum or, more commonly, by cumulative damage to the tiny hair cells in the inner ear that receive sound. These hair cells cannot regenerate, so any damage they suffer is permanent.

Conversely, a ruptured eardrum is likely to heal in a couple months, though it may cause at least short-term ear pain and hearing loss. A 2011-2012 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that at least 10 million adults under the age of 70 in the United States (about 6 percent) -- and perhaps as many as 40 million (24 percent) -- have noise-induced hearing loss.

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Researchers have also estimated that as many as 17 percent of teens have noise-induced hearing loss based on a study conducted in 2005-2006. Precise levels of noise-induced hearing loss are difficult to gauge because hearing loss is often caused by other things, and because tests depend on a standard of “normal” that doesn’t always apply. For example, someone born with extraordinary hearing may still pass a hearing test later in life, despite some hearing loss; conversely, someone born with poor hearing may endure zero hearing loss but still exhibit signs of hearing loss because they fall below standard.

If, however, you notice changes in how you perceive sound, it is advisable to reduce your loud noise exposure and see a doctor.